The most significant book I read this year was undoubtedly Rahul Banerjee’s Recovery of the Lost Tongue, the author’s memoirs of his life and struggles among the Bhil adivasis of central India. Interestingly the link to this book whose complete text is available online was left in the comments of my annual wrap up post last year. Thanks to Rama for the same! (link to my review of the book)
The book is unduly long and written in a long winded manner and it is not the easiest one to read, but the reader is amply rewarded by the author’s acute observations and insights into the processes at work in contemporary India. I would rather read this book than dozens of tomes by Ramachandra Guhas and Shashi Tharoors to understand India as it has evolved in the last three decades. There is much to disagree with what the author calls an ‘anarchist’ manifesto, but then it is always exciting to disagree with someone who is not only honest but also has an amazing capacity to traverse the dialectic between theory and practice.
The only other work of non- fiction that I read this year was Mike Davies’ Planet of Slums. It would be trite to say that it is a tour-de-force on the massive slum-ization of the planet in the late 20th- early 21st century. It is a phenomenon that particularly impacts the poor in third world and Davies captures it in a small, scholary and immensely readable work merely 228 pages long.
In fiction, How I Became a Nun by the Argentinian writer Cesar Aira was somewhat disappointing compared to his previous works A Day in the Life of a Landscape Painter and The Hare. An allegory based on Alice in Wonderland, I thought it fell flat when tackling the complex issue of the possibilities and limits of a writer’s imagination.
Captain Alatriste by Arturo Perez-Reverte, a potboiler set in medieval Spain was a good, easygoing, escapist work that I highly recommend for anyone taking a break from serious literature. There are five or six works in the series that began with this novel and I do have a mind to read some of the later ones next year.
The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano was undoubtedly the best long novel this year. Roberto Bolano has created waves, albiet posthumously, in the United States and I must confess that I love his writings. See previous posts related to Roberto Bolano.
The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa, reviewed earlier on this blog was a somewhat disappointing work, given my admiration for Llosa. A wonderful contemporary subject was subjected to some very dark prose and ridiculous coincidences that expect a lot of compromises from the reader.
Books still mid- way include The Hare by Cesar Aira (a brilliant work), The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (plain prose, but interesting all the same, particularly given the fact that it was written in the 1960s), The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco (based on a novel idea- a man loses his memory of all events but remembers only the books that he has read in his lifetime) and The Case of Comrade Tulayev by Victor Serge (this is one of those books that I should have read many years back).
This was also the year that I really discovered Tarkovsky, particularly via Andrei Rublev, and felt that I have finally grasped the director’s language cinematic language though re- watching The Mirror failed to strike a chord once again. Among the more recent ones Pan’s Labyrinth– the fantastical, if nightmarish story of a modern day Alice in the ‘wonderland’ of fascist Spain, is easily one of the best ones.
The Painted Veil was impressive too, and I felt should have been titled Love in the Time of Cholera, though it is not base on Garcia Marquez’s novel by the same name. Incidentally, a movie based on the novel was released last month, I haven’t got around to watch it as yet, but the reviews have not been exactly ecstatic.
Two older movies Moscow does not believe in Tears and Goodbye, Lenin were also particularly memorable.
The latter particularly touched a raw nerve for someone who shared the socialist dream of the 20th century, and carries them well into the 21st.